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Lieu­tenant-Com­man­der Than­deka Mot­sene is mak­ing waves on­board the SAS Isan­dl­wana

When it comes to fire­power, Lieu­tenant-Com­man­der Than­deka Mot­sene is the go-to per­son aboard the South African Navy's frigate SAS Isan­dl­wana.

The 33-year-old anti-air war­fare of­fi­cer, or weapons of­fi­cer, is re­spon­si­ble for ad­vis­ing the cap­tain of the ves­sel on how best to use weapons to de­fend the ship against at­tacks from the air. For se­cu­rity rea­sons, she can't go into the de­tails of what this en­tails.

“When the ship is not in com­bat sit­u­a­tions or ad­vanced mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions, my job en­tails train­ing gun oper­a­tors to en­sure that they know how to op­er­ate the weapons safely and ac­cu­rately,” she ex­plains.

Mot­sene's typ­i­cal day aboard the ship be­gins with her con­duct­ing sys­tem checks to en­sure that they are all op­er­at­ing ef­fi­ciently and ef­fec­tively.

Once this has been done, she briefs war­fare teams on the day's pro­gramme and main­te­nance sched­ules.

“I am also ex­pected to main­tain a watch on the bridge to en­sure that the ship is kept safe from col­li­sions and ground­ings. I also brief the cap­tain about per­son­nel train­ing, ship sta­tus and any mat­ters re­lated to the achieve­ment of the ship's ob­jec­tives for the du­ra­tion of the time spent at sea.”

On the path to suc­cess

While Mot­sene's life is now at sea, that is not how she once en­vis­aged it.

She wanted to be a pi­lot with the South African Air Force. How­ever, she did not meet the weight and height re­quire­ments for the fighter air­craft's ejec­tor seat as she was too short and light­weight.

“The Navy was my sec­ond choice, mostly be­cause it sounded in­ter­est­ing and I loved the uni­form.”

Born in Tem­bisa, Mot­sene lived in Viljoen­skroon in the Free State un­til she was 11 when she moved to En­nerdale, south of Jo­han­nes­burg.

Af­ter com­plet­ing ma­tric in 2001, she joined the Depart­ment of De­fence's Youth Foun­da­tion Pro­gramme.

This is a skills devel­op­ment pro­gramme for pre­vi­ously dis­ad­van­taged stu­dents, which al­lows par­tic­i­pants to im­prove their ma­tric re­sults so that they can pur­sue ter­tiary stud­ies or join the South African Na­tional De­fence Force (SANDF).

Mot­sene has been in her cur­rent

po­si­tion for about a year and a half.

Be­fore joining the SAS Isan­dl­wana as its weapons of­fi­cer she com­pleted 10-month war­fare course in prepa­ra­tion for the post.

Mot­sene pre­vi­ously served aboard the In­shore Pa­trol Ves­sel, SAS Tern as the Act­ing Com­mand­ing Of­fi­cer, where it was her re­spon­si­bil­ity to en­sure the ship was main­tained in or­der to meet the op­er­a­tional re­quire­ments of the Navy.

A sea of op­por­tu­ni­ties

Mot­sene joined the Navy in 2003 and rel­ishes the op­por­tu­ni­ties she has been given to thrive there.

“The fact that I am a woman in what is still con­sid­ered a ‘man's world' al­ways cre­ates an op­por­tu­nity to shine brighter, not be­cause I need to prove any­thing, but sim­ply to show that I am just as ca­pa­ble.”

She ad­mits that she strug­gles with be­ing re­ferred to as 'the first woman to do this or that' each time she ob­tains a qual­i­fi­ca­tion.

“This is mostly be­cause I feel as if it takes away the hard work that went into ob­tain­ing the qual­i­fi­ca­tion and in­stead fo­cuses on the fact that I am a woman.”

Serv­ing with pride

Mot­sene is ex­tremely proud of the Navy.

“I have en­coun­tered women from var­i­ous coun­tries who were shocked when I told them what I do for a liv­ing, sim­ply be­cause they are not af­forded the same op­por­tu­ni­ties in their own coun­tries.

“It makes me proud to say that I work for an or­gan­i­sa­tion that al­lows women to ful­fil any role, be it a chef, en­gi­neer or even com­mand­ing a naval ves­sel.”

And while the Navy has opened the door to many op­por­tu­ni­ties, Mot­sene stresses that the key to suc­cess is choos­ing to be dis­ci­plined and putting in the hard work.

She ad­vises other young peo­ple want­ing to join the Navy to be pre­pared to serve and not look for self-glory.

“You are not en­ti­tled to any­thing in life.You have to work hard for any­thing you want to achieve.”

For Mot­sene, the hard work is far from over. Her job re­quires her to con­tinue learn­ing, es­pe­cially in her spe­cific field. She loves shar­ing that knowl­edge with her ju­nior col­leagues.

As for her fu­ture plans, Mot­sene can't pic­ture her­self any­where else but serv­ing the Navy and her coun­try.

Writer: No­luthando Motswai Pho­tog­ra­pher: Able Sea­man Chan­ton Prins

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